The pope will preside over a simple door-closing ceremony, littlechanged since it was first performed exactly 500 years earlier, and asolemn Mass and hymn of Te Deum in St. Peter's Square. At the end of theMass, he will issue the Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte"(Entering the New Millennium).
As is traditional, the ceremony will take place on the church'sFeast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the manifestation of Jesus tothe Gentile world as represented by the Magi, or three Wise Men, fromthe East.
Vatican sources said the 80-year-old pontiff may underline hisdetermination to carry the momentum of Holy Year into the future byannouncing the next day the names of the prelates he will name to theCollege of Cardinals at a Consistory expected to be held in February.
Some 50,000 last-minute pilgrims joined a slow-moving line in arain-swept St. Peter's Square Thursday to enter the basilicathrough the Holy Door and secure a special Holy Year indulgence carryingremission of temporal punishment for sins.
The last pilgrims will be allowed through the Holy Doors of St.Peter's and Rome's three other major basilicas late Friday. Then workers will begin preparing the doors for the closing ceremonies.
Tens of thousands of faithful waited for hours Friday in St. Peter's Square for their last chance for another 25 years to pass through the basilica's Holy Door. Friday's faithful were far luckier than the thousands who stood the night before in a pouring, cold rain to reach the door in the waning hours of the Holy Year marking the start of Christianity's third millennium.
Vatican officials have said they would keep the door open beyond the 6 p.m. closing time Friday to let the last person in line pass through.
The line, seven or eight people across, zigzagged across the broad, cobblestone square and up the basilica's steps, where faithful were going through the door at the rate of about 100 per minute.
Giampiero Pierobon and wife, along with their 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, joined the back of the line shortly before the pope's appearance.
``We're here because we're practicing believers,'' said Pierobon. He said his family, which is from Cittadella in northern Italy, arranged its Christmas vacation to be in Rome just before the closing of the door.
Because of the importance to the church of the start of the third millennium of Christianity, the pope for thefirst time in history himself opened all four Holy Doors. But he hasdelegated the closing of the basilicas of St. John Lateran, Mary Majorand St. Paul Outside the Walls to three cardinals.
The pontiff's decision to close only the Holy Door of St. Peter'smay be intended to stress the importance of the final ceremony of HolyYear, but it also will relieve him of some fatigue.
John Paul, who suffers from a an undefined neurological disorder that makes it difficult for him to move and to speak clearly, has kept to a relentlessHoly Year schedule that included pilgrimages to Mount Sinai and the HolyLand, weekly Masses outdoors in St. Peter's Square and almost dailyaudiences for a total of 8.5 million pilgrims.
John Paul, who for years after his election as pope in October 1978managed occasionally to hike and ski, has given no indication that heplans to limit his schedule because of his infirmities.
Navarro-Valls has confirmed that the pope will visit Ukraine inJune. Planning also is under way for trips to Syria, Malta and possiblyGreece.
For the ceremony closing the Holy Door, John Paul will kneel at thethreshold in silent prayer, then rise and close the two bronze panels ofthe door in silence.
In late January, workers will wall up the door inside the basilica.Inside the bricks they will place a bronze urn containing a papal medalin gold for Holy Year, 23 silver medals for each year of John Paul'spontificate, 17 bronze medals to commemorate the 17 years since the lastHoly Year and a parchment bearing the signatures of those present at theopening and closing ceremonies.
Normally, the church celebrates Holy Year only once every 25 years,but John Paul proclaimed an extraordinary Holy Year in 1983-84 tocommemorate what Christians believe was the 1950th anniversary of theresurrection of Christ.
The other door-closing ceremonies will be held on Friday on theVigil of the Epiphany. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope's vicar generalfor Rome and dean of St. John Lateran, will preside at the basilica,while Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Vatican's CentralCommittee for the Jubilee of the Holy Year 2000, closes the Holy Door atSt. Paul Outside the Walls and Cardinal Carlo Furno, dean of St. MaryMajor, officiates at his basilica.